Why Aren’t VIHA’s ‘hubs’ offering more?

After nearly 5 years without fixed-site needle exchange services, VIHA has proposed two service ‘hubs’ to offer comprehensive needle exchange and support services for people who use drugs.

It’s great that VIHA finally got around to doing this….BUT, hold on~ after all this time, is this all we get?

Since 2002, seven reports have recommended VIHA proceed with providing supervised consumption services (SCS) to increase the continuum of health care for people who use drugs. SCS decrease overdose deaths, reduce disease transmission and hospital visits, provide support and referral services, and reduce public consumption of street drugs.  After 10 years of recommendations for SCS, we ask: why aren’t VIHA’s service hubs offering more?

Over the next two weeks, VIHA is doing two community panels on these services.
January 30, 2013, Fernwood Community Association,1923 Fernwood Street, Victoria

February 6, 2013, North Park Community Association

Here’s some things we’d like to know:

1/ Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) were first recommended in Victoria in 2002. An additional six reports over the past 10 years have recommended Victoria introduce SCS as a means to increase our communities’ capacities to address illicit drug use according to best health care practice. Are SCS part of the new hub model? If not, why aren’t these best practices and recommendations being followed?

2/ A 2002 study [Missed Opportunities] found that the “single fixed Needle Exchange site with its limited hours of operation cannot meet the needs of its clients.” A 2005 study [Fitting the Pieces Together] recommended 24/7 access to needle exchange supplies. How many hours are these services to be available? Is this more than was offered at the Cormorant site? Is what is being offered in keeping with best practices outlined by local research?

3/ In Victoria, health care and social supports are often “hard to reach” for people living in poverty, and particularly people who use illicit drugs. Various bylaws push people out of public spaces and VIHA has contributed to this with its unwritten directive that prevents harm reduction outreach workers from doing their jobs within a 2-block radius of St. Andrew’s Elementary School. This directive reduces that neighbourhood’s capacity to address street drug use and increases risk to all. A 2010 study by the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. recommended this specific directive be immediately revoked. As part of the service redesign, will VIHA revoke this directive and challenge other bylaws that make health care services “hard to reach?”

4/ People who use illicit drugs are profoundly stigmatized. We inflict stigma and marginalization on people through criminalization, bylaws, no-go zones, and the language we use to speak about one another. Stigmatization serves to fuel the impacts of trauma, abuse and colonialism that many people who use drugs live with everyday, that causes us to then assign labels such as ‘anti-social.’ How will VIHA resist this through its new model of service? How will people who use drugs be made to feel welcomed, respected and important when they access the services that are being designed to help them?

5/ In 2006, VIHA committed to a ‘comprehensive’ approach that would pair needle-exchange services with counselling, education and health referral services [Closing the Gap]. A 2008 report on needle exchange services in Victoria [Reaching Out] found these health services are most accessible when offered in comfortable drop-in spaces with additional services such as adequate seating, phones, hot drinks, etc. Which of these criteria for comprehensive and accessible services are met by the proposed model? If any of these criteria are not being met, why not, and when will they?